He checked the time on his phone one more time before sliding a suit jacket over his broad shoulders & slipping it into his pocket. It had been almost thirteen years since he last saw her, and he was... nervous? anxious? He was excited. Thirteen years! How had it been that long? Sure, there had been a few rough patches back then, but hey, it was sophomore year of high school. Wasn't everyone's dating status a little messed up back then?

He straightened his tie, tossed his beer can into the pile next to the overflowing garbage bin, and snagged his keys out from underneath some dirty dishes. As he went to close the door, he unclipped the old sports lanyard from his key fob & tossed it on the floor just inside. No sense in having that dirty thing dangling out of his suit pocket all night. She might laugh at the idea that he was still going to high school football games every week, and the last thing he wanted was for her to laugh at him. The thought made his jaw clench and his muscles stiffen. It had always made him feel so small when she laughed at him, even having been twice her size. Tonight was supposed to be fun, he had a plan, and he'd be damned if she was going to ruin it for him.

He hadn't looked her up online to see what she was up to these days; he wanted something to talk about with her. Catching up just wouldn't be the same if he already knew everything, and how awkward would that be if he knew all about her and she hadn't taken the time to look him up? Creepy, she'd probably think. Yeah, let's avoid that description at all costs, he begged to no one in particular.
He already knew what she'd thought of him back then after they'd broken up for the last time; there was no need to makes things worse. She thought him a fool the time he had bothered to apologize for everything; Maybe it was just too soon, he thought. Tonight he was going to mend fences, and hey, if she was still single & willing to talk, maybe this could turn into something again. He knew she'd laugh at the idea initially, so he'd work his way in slowly.

Once he arrived at the hotel, he was given a blank name tag and a free drink ticket for the cash bar. He could hear music coming from the dance hall, and was instantly transported back to the glory days. Quickly scribbling his name on the name tag, he took off on a mission to find her.

Opening the double doors, he could hear the beginning of the Cupid Shuffle, which just under half of the room was attempting to perform, doing each of the synchronized moves. They were all poorly out of practice, but it didn't seem to matter. They were all laughing and having a good time anyways. He scanned the room for her, looking for anything that might clue him in to where she'd be, but he saw nothing. He headed to the bar up front for his free drink.

After getting a beer, he headed into the crowd, looking for some of his old cronies to catch up with. Most of them had gone off to college and started new lives, and everyone had just kind of drifted apart. Tonight would be the perfect time to hang out, shoot the shit, and reminisce about "the good old days." It didn't take him long before he spotted a few of them with their dates over near the back wall next to the other bar. When he arrived, they all welcomed him with heavy drunken hugs, cheering, and razzing him about never keeping in touch. This is going to be a good night, he predicted. Now if only he could find his main target, then everything would be set.

Halfway through his third beer, there was a burst of noise erupting from the corner of the room as a small group of guys welcomed one of their comrades into their huddle. He glanced over to see if it was anyone he should stop and visit.
Those were her guys. There was the one with all the muscles & piercings, who had been on the football team with him; the shorter one with the Zelda hat turned backwards that she had grown up with; and the small Asian guy that was always cracking jokes, often at his own expense. He was surprised that they weren't all over there in ripped jeans and ragged band tees showing off all their "hardcore" tattoos. Things change I guess, he thought. But sure as shit, there she was; at least that hadn't changed.

She had always looked out of place with them. They were all so dark and moody, and she was this loud happy ray of sunshine with a laugh that wouldn't quit. She was soft and gentle, whereas they had always seemed like they'd throat punch you just for fun. I don't get it, he stared, confused, as she hugged each one of them & they lightly punched her in the arm. They all were chuckling about something or another, and she began to scan over the crowd, a curious look in her eye. Was she looking for him?

He thought that maybe she saw him, he felt like her eyes paused on him longer than anyone else she'd seen. I knew it, he thought. Thirteen years is nothing when it's me you're talking about. He waited until she had settled back into the group so that it wasn't so obvious he was going to approach her. Make her wonder if you're going to even talk to her, he thought, you know she wants to talk, or she wouldn't be looking for you. He excused himself from the group and headed through the crowd as "I Gotta Feeling" started playing. He laughed, remembering how much she'd hated this song at homecoming. "It's so overplayed," she had claimed, "and it isn't even that good."

The guys all shifted backwards as he made his way through the crowd & approached the circle. Not so tough these days, are you, he mused. He had a good 100#s on each one of them, he hadn't been a linebacker for nothing. Sure over the past ten years, more of it was fat than muscle, but once she saw him smile at her, she wouldn't care. He grinned wide as he broke through the last few people in his path.

He didn't notice her ring, or the fact that all of the men in the group shared the same aggravated facial expression. He didn't notice the fourth guy (he wouldn't have recognized him even if he had) standing next to them in his suit. All he saw was her, in her simple black cocktail dress and leather heels, staring at him, dead in the eye. And she didn't look one bit happy to see him.

After their son was tucked into bed and the animals had all been fed, she zipped up her dress and clipped on the bracelet she had gotten from her husband that year for their anniversary. She grabbed her peep-toe heels with the zipper up the front, strapped them on, and stood up from the bench at the end of the bed. They're the only "badass" heels I have, she laughed. As if I ever look remotely hardcore with the guys anyways. She chuckled and made her way downstairs, where her husband was explaining the countless remotes to his mother in case she decided to watch television while they were out. They weren't planning on being terribly late tonight, but with a one-year old, you don't get out much; maybe they'd be out a little later than she'd been telling him. After all, it was the guys, and they were long overdue for a card game.

Her husband grabbed the car keys and his wallet, and they headed out. The reunion was going to be held at one of the ritzier hotels in town; she couldn't believe the committee had spent the money to reserve the space for it. Just a handful of years earlier, they had all arranged a meeting to watch a football game and grab drinks at one of the local watering holes afterwards. She'd skipped that in favor of hiking, shopping, and a couple of peaceful nights by the Mississippi River. Back then, she was sure not much had changed in a mere five years; most of her class would just now be figuring out what they were going to do in life after returning from college. Ten years seemed like a better number to go and see what everyone was up to. A good excuse to be a little nosey, she had joked earlier that day.

When they arrived, a woman handed them both a drink voucher and blank name tag & explained that most of the women were writing both their maiden name & married name (when applicable), so that people could easily identify them. Makes sense, she thought as she wrote both names down, as if anyone I didn't talk to then really wants to "catch up" now. She scoffed at the idea of some of these people even waving at her, let alone caring who she was or was not according to a name tag.

This whole thing was going to be a joke. Everyone was going to just fall back in with their old crews, nothing was really going to change. She'd stayed in loose contact with the guys, though admittedly it had been a little longer than previous years since she'd last seen any of them. Growing up and taking on more responsibility got in the way of weekly hang outs, as it always does. No more late night Taco Bell runs or game nights, and only the few band practices she'd rarely attended over the years. Gone were the Superbowl parties and digging her car out of corn fields in the dead of winter ("shouldn't have interrupted the Slash solo," they'd said); it felt like a lifetime ago.

As they came into the room, a decently sized crowd was dispersing, having just finished one of the many synchronized dances from homecomings and proms of years past. Some old Taylor Swift song came on and the couples started dancing while the ladies who came stag started singing along terribly out of tune with their friends. Some things never change, she laughed. She scanned the edges of the room for her crew, slightly dragging her husband behind her.

There was no way any of her guys were going to be dancing to this mushy trash, or any other music they'd be playing for that matter. They'd be off in some corner avoiding everyone but being present just to say they went, and so that they wouldn't catch shit from her later about not being there. Who else was she going to make jokes with all night? It's not like her husband knew any of these people; they were a few classes below him, pretty much anyone he knew was through her, save for the occasional game nerd.

Sure enough, there they were hiding in a corner looking as bored as they possibly could. She had to hand it to them though, they cleaned up nicely. Sure they were still wearing their beat up sneakers & boots, one was wearing a baseball cap, and she could almost guarantee one of them was wearing some older-than-dirt band tee under their button down, but they could only change so much for such a trivial event. After using her voucher for a glass of moscato, she bee-lined over to them. As soon as they saw her, there was the old chorus of laughter, "hey punk," "what's up loser," & "he-hey!" while they all hugged and play fought. They all shook hands with her husband as usual, casually asked him, "how's it going, man," before falling into a brief conversation about video games.

She scanned the crowd to see who all had bothered coming. There was only one person she was looking out for. Even though it had been over a decade, a freaking decade, she reminded herself, he still made her stomach turn. As long as she knew where he was, and that it wasn't anywhere near her, tonight could be fun. But dear god help him if he saw her and decided to talk to her. She'd had more than enough of his antics for a lifetime. Manipulative asshole with something to prove, as all of her friends and family coined him.

She'd wasted so much time, so many opportunities, on him by allowing him to get into her head. He'd simply taken advantage of her crush and used it to make her hopelessly devoted to him, blinded by what everyone else could see was a psychologically toxic and physically dangerous relationship. She had definitely learned her lesson to listen a little closer to her friends after she finally left him for the final time sophomore year.

That's when it started. That blasted Black Eyed Peas song that she loathed with every fiber of her being. While everyone else was bobbing their heads enthusiastically and dancing around with their beer and wine glasses in hand, she immediately felt repulsed. This feeling only intensified as she saw him less than 100 feet away from her, looking in her direction. Well shit, she sighed. She quickly moved her eyes away in hopes he hadn't seen her. Even though it had only been a few seconds, she couldn't believe "I Gotta Feeling" was still playing; it felt like an eternity turning her head back to her crew, avoiding locking eyes on that cretin again.

The song was muffled out by a few moments of weight lifting talk before one of the guys grunted in disgust, looking off over her shoulder. She turned around, knowing exactly what was coming. She could tell by the way the circle expanded, giving her all the room she'd need. They knew that this was her battle, and they knew she didn't need them to fight it for her. They'd want to drag him outside to "talk," anyways, and that just wasn't her style. She wanted an eye for an eye, and the only way for her to do that was for her to mentally cripple him, even if just for a brief moment.

When she'd turned the full 180 degrees, she saw the last few people move out of the way as his body broke through. She handed off her purse to one of the boys, crossed her arms in front of her, and stood her ground. Here he came in some cheap rental suit, too tight for his shoulders. His hair was buzzed down, and his face fairly clean, his tie off kilter. He reeked of cheap beer from the cash bar, and his eyes nearly disappeared into his face when he flashed his Chiclet toothed smile.

Their eyes locked, and as he opened his mouth to speak, she simply raised her eyebrows, kept her stare, and shook her head. A sigh huffed from her nostrils like a dragon. Not this time, she dared him, I'm not the same person I was back then. When he looked surprised, in complete disbelief that not only was she not happy to see him, but that she wasn't even going to say, "hello," she did exactly what she knew would kill his over-inflated ego.

She looked down for a moment, relishing the thought, before looking back at him, eyes bright, smile wide, head still shaking at the audacity he had. She laughed.


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